If you are like me, and frequently end up not having enough/any time to pay attention to the Eastern Conference, this is the article for you, my friend. Pull up a chair. Let's chat.
While you may remember New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather for signing most of the NHL's surreally terrible deals (Holik, Gomez, Redden, etc.)/being an actual bridge troll, he has recently done some pretty good work shaping the Rangers' roster. The youth & depth given up in the Rick Nash trade was largely replaced by the return for Marian Gaborik (more on him to come later), the Martin St. Louis acquisition has been great for a team looking to win now, and as John detailed extensively for you earlier, the Alain Vigneault hiring has reaped big returns already. After a tough start in the fall/winter, the Rangers went on a tear to close out the regular season. And how have the playoffs shaken out for them so far? I'm so glad you asked.
Round One: Rangers (4) - Flyers (3)
This seems like a million years ago - but yes, it's true: Steve Mason was a starter for an actual NHL team in the playoffs. I know.
Actually, Steve Mason didn't even really Steve Mason things up this time. He was injured to start the series, and it was Ray Emery who had to withstand some decent pressure from the Rangers to help the Flyers keep up with a better team and trade wins. The Rangers' win in Game 3 was actually by far the worst game they played in the entire series, and was the only game where they did not out-Corsi the Flyers at even strength (score close). This was the point at which I thought that wacky hijinks might ensue because I mean, have you met Daniel Carcillo?, but they didn't really. Instead, the Rangers got their shit back together and played progressively better, overcoming some tough luck to defeat the Flyers in 7. How boring.
Round Two: Rangers (4) - Penguins (3)
Straight up, the Rangers basically had no business winning this series. They won the first game, and then the Penguins took over, establishing a 3-1 series lead. It was a real 3-1 series lead too, with the Penguins out-possessing, out-chancing, and generally out-playing the Rangers. Noted playoff goat Marc-Andre Fleury really pulled himself together (obviously he sent all his bad karma to California), and it looked like it was curtains for the team whose uniforms always make them look like they all peed themselves.
And then Henrik Lundqvist was like "fuck this - I am not getting any younger and I look even older because I tan way too much and I am tired of your bullshit" and took over, destroying the remainder of Pennsylvania's hopes and dreams. If you have some time, catch the game seven highlights, where he completely shut the door even as the Penguins poured on the pressure and seemed destined to break through. Coming from someone who does not care for ~the King~, it was a virtuoso performance.
If this seems like a very superficial analysis, well...there's not much to say. Rangers not so good, Penguins good, Lundqvist better. That's it.
Round Three: Rangers (4) - Canadiens (2)
Having seen first-hand how a goalie performance could absolutely steal a series, Chris Kreider evidently decided to make things easier for his team and straight-up murder Carey Price* in game one.
(*Please do not leave tiresome Zapruder film analyses in the comments, Rangers fans. I am joking and - more importantly - I do not care.)
The Habs played about as good of a series as they possible could against the Bruins to make it to the Eastern Conference final, but then they fell pretty flat against the Rangers. Aside from a tremendous game two (which the Rangers still won, largely due to some more Lundqvist brilliance), the Canadiens never really put together more than one or two solid periods. That didn't stop both teams from getting into some really dumb shit - Brandon Prust dismantling Derek Stepan's jaw earned him a two-game suspension, and John Moore rearranging Dale Weise's brain got him the same - and generally just being kind of embarrassing.
Finally, a Dan Carcillo hijinks spotting! Yes, he got suspended (the mandatory) ten games for going after an official, because Dan Carcillo is stupid, and not having him on our favourite hockey team anymore is great. Carcillo appealled his suspension, and for some reason "mandatory" stopped meaning mandatory, and Carcillo will hear the result of his appeal on Tuesday. Either way, the Kings win, because Carcillo playing is a liability to his team, and Carcillo not playing means he's less likely to punch Anze Kopitar in the face for funsies.
A little bit lost amidst the stupidity was how well the Rangers played when they weren't head-butting or harassing children. The forward lines that Alain Vigneault stuck with really seemed to start clicking, the inevitable regression of Rick Nash's shooting percentage began, and Martin St. Louis offered some of those patented "old dude acquired at the trade deadline" heroics. In particular, the Rangers' speed on the break-out gave Montreal fits, and their special teams, particularly the penalty kill, helped to put Montreal away. It's hard to tell how much of that was as a result of Montreal's power play being, uhh, not very good, but I guess we'll figure that out soon enough.
Overall, it hasn't exactly been a power house march towards victory, and the Rangers haven't faced competition the calibre of the Sharks or the Blackhawks, but they've been both good and lucky, and their goaltender has been great - and that's been more than enough to win the Stanley Cup many times in the past.